Peter Oborne is everything Chilcot will not be: concise, honed, forensic and devastatingly logical. Oborne’s Not the Chilcot Report is the most important book that will be published this year. I strongly urge you to read it. Anyone who doubts the continued relevance of what Tony Blair did then, to Britain today will be left in no doubt of the poison still pumping around not just the British political system but the entire Middle East.
Oborne’s book is a tremendous example of how much information can be made digestible in a short space by excellent writing. Oborne presents the clearest of accounts of the history of the Iraqi weapons programmes and the very clear knowledge that Britain and the international community had of them.
Where Oborne is at his best is skewering the guilty men by pinpointing the key lies and distortions. In so doing, he is able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the major figures acted dishonestly and with deliberation. Here for example is a phrase from a minute of 15 March 2002 by John Scarlett, then Head of the Joint Intelligence Committee and later Head of MI6, discussing what to release to the public:
“You will still wish to consider whether more impact could be achieved if the paper only covered Iraq. This would have the benefit of obscuring the fact that, in terms of WMD, Iraq is not exceptional.”
Oborne has seized on the phrase that proves that Scarlett was knowingly engaged in deliberately misleading the public, in order to promote an aggressive war. Do not expect anything so acute from Chilcot.
Oborne sets out the unanswerable case that UN Security Council Resolution 1441 could not “revive” the authorisation of military action against Iraq under UN Security Council Resolution 678, as it specifically stated that any further breach of Iraq’s disarmament obligations would “be reported to the Council for assessment”, not trigger military action. That assessment never happened. Oborne also points out the more overlooked argument that 678 itself only authorised military intervention for the purpose of securing Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait anyway, so it could not be “revived” unless Iraq again occupied Kuwait.
Oborne sets out in cogent and consecutive detail how Lord Goldsmith both held and set out this self evident fact, and that this was hidden from the Cabinet. Oborne highlights the evidence from Chilcot that every single one of the Foreign Office’s stellar department of Legal Advisers held this same view, that to invade Iraq would be illegal. And he skewers in every detail Goldsmith’s servile behaviour in flying to Washington to be given, and adopt, the Bush lawyers’ logically impossible position that it was open to any individual UN member to make the unilateral determination of whether Iraq was in material breach of the disarmament obligations.
Nothing here the cognoscenti did not know – but to read it set out so squarely still sends a chill down the spine.
Oborne is perhaps at his strongest on the disastrous consequences of the Iraq War. This is where neo-con revisionists in the mainstream media have worked hardest – the narrative window is that perhaps the war was based on an untruth, but the consequences were good.
Oborne shows that the security services predicted before the war that to invade Iraq would increase the terrorist threat in the UK. He shows conclusively from evidence to Chilcot including from former MI5 head Eliza Manningham Buller that the invasion of Iraq had indeed increased the terrorist threat to the UK and had directly caused the radicalisation of young British muslims with consequences including the 7/7 bombings.
Manningham Buller told Chilcot that it was beyond doubt, and measurable, that the Iraq invasion greatly increased the terrorist threat to the UK, and to counter the arguments of those who deny this – particularly Tony Blair – she pointed out that immediately following the invasion, Blair had agreed to an unprecedented doubling of the budget of MI5 – the domestic security agency.
The consequences of the invasion of Iraq in terms of Middle East instability and lives lost have been incalculable. In simple terms of deaths in Iraq alone, Oborne explains more clearly than I had ever seen that Iraq Body Count only includes fatalities confirmed in two separate English language sources, and therefore this is a major underestimate. 1 million dead is probably a more realistic estimate.
As battle rages around Fallujah for at least the fifth time since the invasion, as the population still starved of work, electricity, education, sanitation and health services rises up in Iraq and periodically attacks the luxury enclave of the Green zone, as the Daesh phenomenon looks to transmogrify into its latest manifestation, attempts to distance these consequences from Blair’s destruction of the Iraqi state are pathetic, yet widely disseminated in mainstream media. Oborne conclusively yet concisely explains why this propaganda is wrong.
The one area where I think he Oborne a little too kind is in his description of Chilcot and his team. Oborne rightly explains no great expectations of the Chilcot report should be held. He has told me privately that he expects that Chilcot will seek to “spread the blame widely and thinly”, rather than hone in on Blair and the really guilty parties. This is my information also; from the criticisms individuals have seen in the “Maxwellisation” process I learn a lot of the blame is to be shifted to the military.
But I don’t think Oborne really nails it on the extent to which Chilcot is a pre-arranged whitewash job. Chilcot was himself a member of the Butler Inquiry, an earlier whitewash covering much the same ground. Oborne points out the interesting fact that now Lord Butler is a free agent in the House of Lords, he has much more squarely accused Blair than anything he said in his report. But Oborne has only gently referred to the point that the Inquiry members were almost all very active cheerleaders for the Iraq War. Only one, Baroness Prashar, is arguably neutral. Not one of the numerous distinguished former Ambassadors, Generals or academics who opposed the war was selected.
The Chilcot Inquiry is a put-up whitewash with membership personally approved by Gordon Brown. It will not be worth reading. This short book by Oborne tells you everything you need to know. Read it instead.
Here is an excerpt from Oborne’s conclusion:
“In the decade after 9/11 the United States spent more than $3 trillion and squandered the lives of 7,000 American and allied soldiers. The consequence of these wars has been the destabilisation of Iraq, the emergence of Islamic States, and a failed state in Afghanistan. Meanwhile the reputation of America and its Western allies has been gravely damaged by the rendition, torture and detention without trial of terror suspects, and other cases of western brutality, such as Abu Ghraib.
…trust in the state was shattered by the Iraq War, and its gruesome aftermath. We have learnt that civil servants, spies, and politicians could not be trusted to act with integrity and decency and in the national interest. This discovery was shattering because it calls into question the moral basis on which Britain has been governed for the last hundred years or more.”
The truth is, these consequences were not unforeseeable. Indeed as Oborne notes on 14 February 2003 Dominique De Villepin, French Foreign Minister, had predicted to the Security Council exactly what the consequences would be:
“…the use of force is not justified at this time. There is an alternative to war; disarming Iraq through inspections.
Moreover, premature recourse to the military option would be fraught with risks… Such intervention could have incalculable consequences for a scarred and ravaged region. It would compound the sense of injustice, would aggravate tensions and would risk paving the way for other conflicts.”
It was an aggressive war on the basis of lies, for which people still die today, all over the world.